We’re being followed

Here’s a bit from Raising a Child With Autism, courtesy of the publisher,

I was more on top of weed-pulling in our first garden. I had the energy of youth, the pride of a new homeowner, and it seemed urgent. Likewise, in the early years of Joey’s life, we were young enough to run ourselves ragged trying to do everything: work on every skill and learning drill, coach him through every small task, try to keep him engaged, clean up after him, visit and consult every expert, and go to every seminar and meeting. As each year passed, we accepted more freedom just to say “no.” We accepted that there would be all kinds of needs and issues all the time.

We also learned more about depending upon others. I pay friends’ kids to pull my weeds these days. In raising a person with autism, there are free services and activities out in the community, and some for which you have to pay. Either way, there are good and competent folks who can enrich the life of a person who lives with autism.  

You can spend all of your time pulling weeds. You’ll have a nicer garden, a sore back, and a growing sense of futility. The job is never done.

20160317_153607

Missing Cushion

Our 28th wedding anniversary comes up toward the end of this month.

We’re coming up on half a year since our 24 year old son with autism, a presence for all but four of our married years, moved to his group home.

20180516_074005Someone described empty nest couples (sorry for the mixed metaphor ahead) as two people finding that “the cushion is gone.”  Two people with a relationship… what? invested in?  distracted by? absorbed with? filtered through? children wake up and find this empty space between them and start trying to scoot together across it.  Or refill it.  Or whatever else people do with empty spaces.

Deferred desires long stuffed under the cushion become visible.  Missed time with friends and extended family, skipped travels, unmade personal touches to home and yard, shrugged off study and career opportunities and piles of other hoped-for endeavors are there, but harder to pick up now that the restrictions of age, time and overworked finances have fallen into that space with them.

Old grievances come into the space.  The demands of the special need were exhausting but they buffered deeper discussions and discoveries that the couple should have shared.  Now these flop in with all of their emotional distortions and disputed memories and toxic colorization of today.

There’s pleasant stuff, too. A gentle pace of life was buried under the cushion and can be restored.  Daydreams can be shared over coffee or cocktails. Decisions can be talked out at length.  There isn’t a frayed and fragile cushion sitting there demanding urgent care.  Life doesn’t have to be lived as a constant emergency response.

The two shall become one flesh says God through Moses, Jesus and the Apostles.  With the cushion gone, the two can dare to shimmy across the couch, risk a hug, chance some words from their hearts, and get on with it again.

A different kind of death

The days after parents hear their child has a disability or special need can be difficult days… Most parents go through a mourning process. The expectations and dreams they may have had for their child die and new ones must take root.  (Sandra Peoples)

003Easter is about an empty tomb.  The expectation that “It’s all over, all is lost” gives way to new life so amazing that, at first, it’s beyond words,

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  (Mark 16:8)

May the surprise of Easter give you new hope – new LIFE – in place of whatever you’ve had to give up.  Don’t worry if you can’t hang words on it right away.  Just live it and the One who gives it will help you understand.

I’m no Mary, he sure ain’t no Jesus…

When Joey was a toddler and we were at camp, the thought flooded my head like perfectly heated steam, while the sun poured into my skin like soft lotion. Some distant, bitter stranger, more like a stick-figure with a disproportionate index finger pointing at me was saying “That is blasphemy, you fool and you will writhe in the pit of Godless Hell.” My conscience made no sense of that brittle, screeching thing.

My thought was that Joey was Jesus and I was Mary. Well, not really. It was more like it felt so perfect, that the love was so pure that it had to be the same love. I thought of my other two children. Did I love them less? I loved them as much, no second thought. Immaculate Conception? Did any reader who barely knows me remain in their chair at that thought? Lastly, Joey had never spoken but one word: “tickle,” and at the time I did not know he would not begin to speak until he was almost five years old. Nothing exceptional about either of us, to the outside world, rather unnoticeable unless misbehaving. 

Misbehaving? I shall not digress much but a doctor has mended a gash in my cornea after one of Joey’s meltdowns. As for me, it took a couple of exceedingly large women walking slowly, diagonally across a mall parking lot, no crosswalk, not looking, got an earful from me and yes, I was sober. To my husband’s chagrin, I was shotgun. 

Back to camp. Joey was 2 years old. He had been diagnosed with severe autism 2 months earlier. Out here in the open, running, clapping or flapping his hands in the fresh-cut grass, he had very few sensory issues. An “older” mother, I was 41.

Now I am almost 62, Joey is 24 and I am thinking perhaps God needed me to love him as deeply as Mary loved Jesus to get through the years of violence and injury he brought, mostly to me because I was physically the weakest, emotionally the most vulnerable, and although autistic, he was smart-enough to know it.

And if that was not enough there were the “outsiders:” every  wise-ass parent who saw a neuro-typical looking child like mine behaving badly and concluded it was my bad parenting, or the parent of another autistic child who had all the answers… I should not have immunized him as I did my other 2, I should have spent tens of thousands of dollars for some amazing camp run by people who looked like the people who used to hang at Haight-Ashbury which would “cure” him. Lastly, the 6-figure paid government employees who knew nothing about education but decided what kind of help my son and other children like him would not receive. Those meetings were tortuous hours.

I still feel the overpowering love that I can only guess Mary felt for Jesus, who was helpless to the world. Of course it is completely different. Of course it is not.

 

Silver Roses

An excerpt from our book showed up on our Publisher’s page today.  Hope it helps you get off of your own back.

One year, my wife and I planted roses all around our backyard. If we knew what we were doing, we would tell you that the flowers were called Lady Wilhelmina Sunburst Spectaculars or some such name. The reality is we went to the nursery and said things like, “Oh, let’s get some of those silver ones.”

Sure, we had red roses and yellow roses, but we were really excited by the bush that would give us silver roses. Our friends would stare and sputter, “Wow, silver roses. Never seen those.”

We planted the silver rose bush in a prominent angle of our fence line. It would be the eye-catching star of the backyard. We followed the nursery’s instructions about how deep to dig, how much to water, and whether it liked red or white wine with meals.

Our dog at the time was a burly malamute mix named Rocky. Evidently, he shared our interest in silver roses. We came home one afternoon to find Rocky lying on the grass, gnawing on the dug-up silver rose bush. After much arm-flapping and loud shouts of, “Oh no!” and “Bad dog!” we replanted the bush. Rocky was a good dog and left it alone. A few weeks later, we had our silver roses. That rose bush didn’t pout because a couple of beginning gardeners forgot to protect it from their dog. It just went back to making silver roses.

Our son Joey endured much because his caregivers were medical amateurs. We never spotted warning signs before a seizure caused him to bang his head on a TV stand, making him bleed profusely. He couldn’t tell us that a stomach bug had him dehydrated, and all we could do was watch the emergency room nurses give him an IV to re-inflate him like a tire.

But after incidents like those, he just took up wherever he left off. Our expertise—or lack thereof—didn’t bother him. He went back to his daily routines and loved us just the same. Joey is not what we made him or failed to make him. He’s always carried strengths of his own that we can admire as precious gifts from God.

We are part of a culture that takes responsibility for too much and assumes that our every word, deed, or thought will have a life-altering impact. Caregivers take that warped thinking to another level since we are in constant interaction with people who have special needs, and we assume that we will do them more harm by our perceived failures.

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV).

We are who we are. Others are who they are, too. Our impact on them is dictated as much by their own inner workings as by our intention and skill.

So let’s drop fear of failure from the one hand and fantasy futures from the other and concentrate on taking hold of what is true in the relationships entrusted to us by God in the here and now. Those placed in our care have special needs we can meet, but they are unique people and not just extensions of our lives.

Silver roses are not our creations; they are the beautiful flowers of tough plants.

Man Card played; Man Card lost

Tonight I have to surrender my Man Card.  I’m crying on and off.

Yes, it’s anticipation of our younger son moving into the special needs group home tomorrow and not being around here.

Yes, it’s relief after a couple of decades of care giving.

Yes, it’s just all kinds of pent up, ignored, overdue and otherwise not well processed feelings.

Started the day in a manly way.  My older son and I went to the local gun shop and looked at manly guns.

We went on the manly range and I rented a reasonably manly piece and shot some almost manly groupings on my targets.

We went to a manly brasserie and had manly fare including manly beer (fourth one from the top scrolling down).

Now I’m sitting around crying on and off.

I leave this here and sign off:

One plan and many question marks

The staff at our son’s new group home are encouraging us to have him there full time instead of just weekends.  People with autism benefit from (heck, generally insist upon) predictable order, and Joey needs greater regularity in the new place.

But for our part, Melissa (mom) had a good insight for keeping him close at this time of the year.  Joey loves Christmas, and to let him spend time in familiar company, decor and activities showed him “that things he loves are not going away.”

He’s having a very merry Christmas.   I can’t remember one more smiley and less moody.  Last night his brother and sister-in-law took him to dinner, and this picture reveals how much that meant to him.  He’s not one to smile for the camera, after all… Joey Tim Carly

Later they went out to visit some old friends and he was not happy to see them go.  He opened the drapes and watched them get into the car and even verbalized feelings about wanting them to come back in.

We get it, this inevitability of change.  But it is going to be some hard going in our hearts in the short term.

below zero

 

Accenting the emotions is an Arctic cold front sitting on us for the time being.  At first it was just our usual hard winter cold with blue skies and bright sun, but yesterday it went to bleak gray along with… with… well, I’ll let my Chevy do the talking.  I could start a post with “It was a dark and stormy night” and be only a tad melodramatic.

Work is kicking my butt.  We set a sales record in my little department but my body is not what it was and the aches and pains never seem to go away.  I’m not sleeping well stewing about Joey and work and bills and and and and.

But that’s another point in favor of making Joey’s transition happen.  Melissa and I are not getting younger and our skill set and energy for care giving are not going to improve.

The church family from our last place in California is suffering through several members’ deaths in recent months.  These were folks around our age and younger, and two were without warning.   So that’s more pull on our hearts and our minds are grappling with this life’s impermanence and fragility (yes, yes, another point in favor of getting on with Joey’s transition).

Then there’s the coming transition in our marriage.  Don’t even have my heart and head fully wrapped around what empty nest will be like.  How will we be when all the decorations come down and Joey is moved out and the flurry of holiday happenings is over and we’re sitting here staring at each other across years of deferred relationship?

Might as well end this with that question mark, since there are so many things in process, unfinished and unknown swirling through our lives right now.

Twinkle twinkle

Family care giving is as full of constellations as our South Dakota night sky.

There are parents caring for kids, of course.  But also kids of all ages caring for parents.  And spouse for spouse, sibling for sibling, friend for friend, ex for ex, neighbor for neighbor…

After my recent musings about our son’s transition to a group home, I got this message from a friend in the region,

I just read your blog post about Joey’s transition and thought I’d share our journey, for perspective. The same time you were moving Joey in, we were moving my parents from the farm to assisted living. This transition took a turn, a few days in, when suddenly it became necessary to move my dad into memory care. So now they are in 2 separate facilities, both a fairly good fit for each of their needs, but they are separated for the first time in 57 years. When Dad resists, it’s especially hard on Mom who put so much effort into keeping him in the home he loved. Sadly, and fortunately, less resistance from him gives Mom respite but means he’s less engaged and more confused. He’s letting go of his connection to his home and eventually to the people he has loved, as must happen. It seems to me that Joey struggling against his separation and transition is a sign of life and love. Having found a good, safe place for him, he is a pretty lucky guy to have more than one place where he is cared for and loved by people who have the stamina to provide what he needs. I still hope to have that coffee on one of my visits, but concerned relatives seem to fill my dance card these last few trips! Peace!

Our friend’s ability to see the good things in all of the trade offs is so important.  Every constellation of care will have these – some seemingly essential things lost but other wonders gained.  Those latter must be illuminated and gazed upon.  They are lamps of meaning and value against what can become, if not resisted, dark and empty feelings of futility and despair.

So twinkle on, whatever your care giving constellation.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.  (Philippians 2:14-16)

Transition

Miss me yet?

Nah, if your life is like mine, you’re up to your posterior in reptiles.  Who cares if some dork blogs about stuff when you have more stuff than you can handle?

About a month ago I wrote happily about our son’s move into a group home.  Reports from the staff continue to be positive.  Heck, last weekend Joey was selectively communicative but smiley just the same when we asked him about the group’s trip to see Disney on Ice. (Random thought: with temperatures dropping here I could probably show a Disney movie in my backyard and call it Disney on Ice.  But I digress).

For now, we have him stay at the new place Friday night through Monday morning.  He spends the “work week” here with us.

So, what’s this like, this zone between empty nest and care giving?  It’s a bit of both.  No, a lot of both.  A word that my wife taught me comes to mind: Transition.  Of course I knew that word in some contexts, but she taught me about it as applied to childbirth, 

This is the hardest phase but also the shortest

Well, let’s hope it’s short.  I mean, the last “phase” was 23 years so this should be a flash in comparison.

Here are some stray things I’m observing and processing.  Hope they might be helpful to you if you are thinking about or in the midst of this kind of transition:

  • Yes, some chores go away.  But others pop up.  He’s technically a tenant now, so I’m writing his rent, utility and activity checks.  So all of a sudden I get extra of one of my favorite tasks, bill paying.  Yep, there’s a flurry of new paperwork in my life.
  • The peace and quiet and laid back pace when he’s not here are wonderful.  All that stuff you hoped/are hoping for?  Yep.  No middle of the night interruptions.  No bathroom accidents.  No holes drilled in your head by verbal perseveration about this and that.  No structuring your day around care giving routines. Coffee tastes better, hot strangers ask you out on dates, the moon is in the seventh house…  OK, I’m exaggerating.  But this big change is a real and overdue blessing.
  • Life continues to dole out rations of crud.  All the other stuff that you were ignoring comes into focus.  Our years-past-the-average-lifespan-of-her-breed dog is having various symptoms of her advanced age.  And so we have the discussion of spending lots of bucks to keep her going or to play the bad guy and have her put down.  Yes, the new freedom is nice.  But life continues to do its thing in your face.
  • Emotions bounce around.  And I mean for all of us.  The other day Joey kept bringing up “donuts and pizza,” a sweet dad and son routine we’ve been having on Saturdays for years.  He misses it.  When he vocalized it, it went right to my heart and it frigging tugged.  No, not tugged.  Applied a wrestling finishing move.  Mom reads the emotions in Joey’s eyes.  She can see he’s struggling with the change – not that he can’t handle the routines and activities of the new place, but that he’s homesick for our place.  So is the lesson that providing a loving home will come back to break your heart?  (Man, sorry, now I sound like sappy pop “Christmas” muzak.  But I digress, again.)
  • Challenging discussions come up.  Should our response to his objections be to immerse him into the group home more aggressively or to prolong his weekended status until he stops lamenting?
  • Holidays are a mixed bag.  The house is filled with familiar decorations and activities that Joey loves.  Having him home much of the week is, we hope, reassurance that life as he knows it isn’t over.  We’re still including him in fun with people he knows and adores (and who reciprocate that affection!)  But the emotional upheaval of a big transition in these tender times adds pangs of pain.  (Dang, this does sound like childbirth).

In other news, Joey brought home some seasonal arts and crafts pieces from his day program, among them this little wreath ornament:

24831118_10214947007377117_2743786266850286762_o

It’s the only ornament on our tree right now.  We are having a bunch of friends over on an upcoming night to have pizza and other good stuff with Joey and to help us finish decorating the tree.

The green holds the hope of spring against the winter gloom. Transition is the short, painful phase that gives way to the birth of a new life.

Hope to share more soon.  Meanwhile, my prayer is that you find blessing in all of your transitions.

Empty Nest Weekend #1

Our son with autism spent his first weekend in his new group home.

It was a flurry of activity for mom and dad; writing rent and utility checks, buying furniture (hint – if you have a used hotel furniture place in town, you can save a ton), hanging curtains, buying extra clothes and toiletries…

Joey bed frame LOL

This sign on the bed frame box made me laugh.  It is the mockery of all of our precise planning.  You just KNOW it can’t be true.

Still, the reports back from the staff were more than encouraging.

Joey slept well in the new room.  That’s big.  One reason we’ve been unable to travel much with him is that he can’t sleep in strange places.  He gets up and wanders all night, then inflicts all of the consequences of sleep deprivation on us the next day.

Joey room Thurman

It helped that he’d been to this place on a past respite weekend and that we brought in some familiar furnishings from our house, such as his own blankets, the desk for his laptop, his rolling office chair and the cross you can spot in the middle of this picture –>

 

 

Joey chose to socialize rather than isolate.  Even with his computer and a VCR available in his room, he hung out in common areas with the other guys.  That news did our hearts good.  He’s going to have a community there.  He’s not feeling lost.

Of course we spent our first night as empty nesters fretting and pacing and crying.

Nah, actually, we went out for sushi.  And a Sake Bomb.  Proud to say I downed mine faster than a young husband and wife competing with me down the bar.

Caregiving.  It makes you hardcore.

Joey post move Sake Bomb